The days when a household had one central stereo in the living are long gone. Today you’ll find receivers and speakers scattered throughout—and sometimes, outside—the house. Yet, as many of us move from room to room, we switch one music system off and another on. Wouldn’t it be simpler to feed each system the same music and channel it to different rooms as you move around the house? And, better yet, have a way to control what plays and on which speakers?
Of course you can. And you can with some tools you might already own. Here’s how.
Tools and setup
A simple setup includes a Mac that houses your iTunes library, an AirPort Express Base Station or Apple TV (running the 2.x software), and an iPod touch or iPhone that you’ve added Apple’s Remote application to. You set them up this way.
Open iTunes 8’s Preferences and click the Devices tab. In this tab enable the Look For Remote Speakers Connected With AirTunes and Look for iPhone and iPod Touch Remotes options and click OK. The first enabled option causes a Remote Speakers pop-up menu to appear in the bottom-right corner of the iTunes window. Enabling the second option tells iTunes to let its existence be known to any copies of Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch Remote application as they seek out available computers.
If you have an AirPort Express Base Station, string an audio cable between its audio port and an input port on a stereo receiver or powered speakers. Launch AirPort Utility (found in /Applications/Utilities), select your AirPort Express, configure it so it’s part of your network, and click the Music tab. In this tab enable the Enable AirTunes option and click Update. Your AirPort Express is now ready to receive music streamed to it from iTunes.
Download Apple’s Remote app from the App Store. You can do this from your iPhone or iPod touch or from within iTunes.
Launch Remote on your iPhone or iPod touch. In the Settings screen that appears, tap the Add Library entry. In the resulting Add Library screen you’ll see a four-digit code. Move to your Mac and its copy of iTunes. In iTunes’ Source list you’ll see the name of your iPhone or iPod touch with the Remote icon next to it. Click this icon and you’ll be prompted to enter the four digits that appear on Remote’s Add to Library screen.
If you have an Apple TV you can set it up now. Move to the Apple TV and navigate to the Add Remote screen (Settings/General/Remotes/). Within the Remote application on your iPhone or iPod touch, tap Add Library. Again, you’ll see a four-digit passcode on the Add Library screen. The name of your iPhone or iPod touch will appear on the TV screen. Select it and press Play/Pause on the Apple Remote. In the succeeding screen, enter the four-digit passcode using the remote’s Plus (+) and Minus (–) buttons, select Done, and press Play/Pause to pair the Apple TV with the Remote application.
Before leaving the Apple TV, go to Settings/Audio/AirTunes and make sure AirTunes is switched on. This allows your computer to stream music to the Apple TV and through any speakers attached to it.
Making it work
With iPhone or iPod touch in hand, launch the Remote application. In the Settings screen be sure the Remote application is connected to your iTunes library. (You can tell that it is by a check mark appearing next to the name of your computer in the Choose a Library list.) Tap Done. From the bottom of the display choose Playlists, Artists, Albums, Search, or More (and, if you choose More, one of the selections, which include Audiobooks, Composers, Genres, Movies, Music Videos, Podcasts, Songs, and TV Shows). Tap an item to play it.
Tap the Now Playing screen that appears on your iPhone or iPod touch. You’ll see the additional controls sheet that normally appears as well as a Speakers entry just above the play controls. Tap Speakers and you’ll see a list of all the speakers that can connect to the computer’s iTunes library remotely—this includes the computer’s own speakers as well as any speakers attached to an AirPort Express or Apple TV. Audio should be playing through the speakers that have a check next to their name. To mute speakers, tap their name and the check disappears. To make attached speakers play, tap their name in the list so the check appears next to their name. The number of currently connected speakers will be reflected in iTunes’ Remote Speakers pop-up menu—Multiple Speakers (3), for example.
From this Now Playing screen you can control the volume coming from speakers attached to your computer and remote speakers. The Previous, Next, Play/Pause, Repeat, and Shuffle features work exactly as you’d expect them to.
What you might not know
Once you’ve configured the equipment and software, playing your music from multiple speakers is pretty straightforward, but there are a few subtleties you might miss. They include:
The Genius factor. When you tap a Now Playing screen, the additional controls area contains the Genius icon. Tap it and you’ll create a Genius playlist on your iPhone or iPod touch. iTunes will display the contents of this Genius playlist shortly after you tap the Genius icon. If you’d like to save this playlist, tap Edit in the upper-right corner of the display and then tap the Save icon that appears in the upper-left corner. The playlist will be saved to the iPhone/iPods touch’s list of playlists as well as automatically saved to your iTunes library. As usual with Genius playlists, it will bear the name of the source track from which you created the Genius playlist.
Live ratings. Just as saved Genius playlists created via the Remote application will be updated in iTunes, so too will ratings. With a track playing, tap the Track List icon and in the track list screen that results, tap on a star rating. That rating will almost immediately appear in iTunes.
Track List from album. When you play a track, the Track List icon will adopt the album artwork of the currently playing track. Tap the Track List icon and you’ll see not the contents of a playlist you may have chosen but rather the contents of the album from which the currently playing track comes. This makes it easy to move to a long-forgotten album when you happen to shuffle through one of its tracks.
Accessing multiple libraries. The Remote app lets you add multiple libraries—one from your desktop Mac, another from your MacBook, and yet another from your Apple TV, for example. However, before switching libraries, make sure that you stop playback in the current library. If you neglect to, the first library will likely continue playing its track on the source device while remote speakers play tracks from the newly selected library.
[Update: Corrected passage that indicates Remote app’s volume controls don’t work with the Apple TV. They do.]